When it was announced that Harvey Mudd College and the intercollegiate Keck Science Department would be hosting a representative from Monsanto Company, an agricultural and biotechnology corporation that has received criticism internationally for its environmental and ethical practices, students had mixed responses. Some student environmentalists immediately expressed concern, given Monsanto's past actions and corporate status.
In an open letter to Harvey Mudd and Keck, a student wrote: “As the most hated corporation on Earth, Monsanto and its subsidiaries should NOT be allowed at the 5Cs.” The letter goes on to provide specific reasons for the criticism, pleading that the institutions either cancel the talks or bring the Monsanto representative as a panelist among academics and experts.
Following the event at Mudd, and two days prior to a second talk at Keck, it was announced that the Monsanto spokesperson had canceled the follow-up event, citing that “there didn’t appear to be a desire for a constructive dialogue on Friday amongst some student groups.” We are concerned if this representative was truly given this impression, as we support and encourage a diversity of opinions and constructive dialogue.
Everyone should be comfortable expressing criticism of things they disagree with, but always maintaining an open enough mind to listen and understand the other side. So yes, visiting speakers should know that students have a right to express their disapproval. And conversely, those who protest need to be properly educated on the topic at hand, rather than getting swept up into a misinformed ideological bandwagon.
Open dialogue is easy enough to understand, but extremely difficult to execute. On the GMO/Monsanto debate, few would deny that the corporation is responsible for many unethical and harmful actions. However, we caution individuals on each side of the debate: Do not demonize or propagate something if you do not fully understand it. This goes for both the activists criticizing Monsanto's actions and the pundits berating “safe spaces” on college campuses.
And even though it might be easier for students to debate this point and defend their positions by arguing these points unquestioningly, we believe that this kind of blind conflict, rather than constructive debate, shifts our focus away from addressing the more pressing environmental concerns at hand.